Vienna Dreams

“Divertimento No. 15,” “Episodes,” “Vienna Waltzes” / “Slice to Sharp,” “Friandises.” “Vienna Waltzes”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 15 and June 17 (matinee)

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2006, Susan Reiter

When “Vienna Waltzes” had its premiere in June 1977, it was the finale of an “All-Viennese” Balanchine program that included “Divertimento No. 15” and “Episodes.” Nearly 30 years later, this same program (now dubbed “all-Austrian”) was again on the schedule, and it’s certainly a strong, richly satisfying one. The three ballets may be linked by the geography of their composers’ nationalities, but they provide a deft sampling of the amazing variety and profundity of the Balanchine oeuvre. Refined and crystalline, knotty and questioning, nostalgic and theatrical — these three ballets cover so much ground, and they made for the kind of complete, engrossing, elevated evening of ballet that one rarely experiences at the New York State Theater these days.

According to Arlene Croce’s review of “Vienna Waltzes” premiere, that 1977 cast of “Divertimento No. 15” was “the strongest in many years,” and it certainly sounds that way, reading the names now: Merrill Ashley, Maria Calegari, Stephanie Saland, Colleen Neary and Kyra Nichols were the ballerinas, with Peter Martins, flanked by Sean Lavery and Gerard Ebitz. Right now, the ballet is one of many being used as a training (or proving) ground for the company’s vast youth movement. The five lead roles on Thursday were performed by one principal — Megan Fairchild, who made her debut the previous night — two soloists, and two corps de ballet dancers.

Given that the cast lacked depth of experience, this was nonetheless a glowing, more than decent performance of this beauteous ballet, with its unending facets and details to admire. Andrea Quinn’s crisp conducting led the way, and most of the time the dancers’ were respectfully aware of, and in thrall to, Mozart’s gleaming melodies and intricate rhythmic curlicues. Ana Sophia Scheller, who has had a very strong season, was particularly fine, her expansive phrasing and poised elegance coming across as ideally Mozartean. In the first variation, every fiber of her body responded to the short, syncopated phrases of the music, without sacrificing the overall choreographic design. Her fellow corps dancer (although both seem to be soloists-in-training, their promotion only a matter of time) Tiler Peck was equally impressive. Her verve and technical prowess are matched by evident intelligence and stylistic awareness, and here she tamed her more athletic attack with lovely restraint, and let the dancing ride effortlessly along on the music. She also was new to this ballet the previous evening, but she already understood the heart of her section of the sublime Andante (4th movement); as she reached forward in arabesque with a touch of yearning, the image lingered for a moment even as she calmly continued on her way.

Recently minted soloist Sterling Hyltin’s eagerness and enthusiasm are captivating, but her flyaway limbs seem unconnected to a strong center, and the rococo refinement of the second variation was diminished in her performance. She seems the perfect instrument for bold, aggressive contemporary choreography, of which there is certainly plenty in the current NYCB repertory, but needs more seasoning (and coaching) if she is to give a fully shaped performance of this work. Rachel Rutherford’s third variation glowed with calm authority, and Fairchild attacked her allegro challenges more authoritatively than one might expect, although there were times when she did seem to be chasing the music. Veyette was touchingly careful and respectful in his variation, but still seems to be finding his way; he can’t quite give it the necessary plush resilience. Jonathan Stafford and Jason Fowler displayed restrained nobility, along with long, elegant legs, and all three men partnered quite well.

“Episodes” provided a welcome astringent touch of strangeness, its spiky angles and convoluted twists featuring the slightly futuristic oddity of Balanchine’s great leotard ballets. Teresa Reichlen, her long body a streak of gleaming white, brought a otuch of wit to the “Five Pieces” duet, joined by an implacable Fowler. Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans make the snaky continuity of the “Concerto” look like second nature, so readily do their bodies shape and sculpt their way through its slightly spooky skeins of movement. Abi Stafford and Arch Higgins led the opening “Symphony” a touch drily, while Sara Mearns brought her luscious attack to the “Ricercata,” in which Askegard was the dignified, selfless partner.

Thursday’s first (of six) “Vienna Waltzes” performances included several debuts. One was unscheduled: Joaquin de Luz substituted for Damian Woetzel in the “Voices of Spring,” section, bounding exuberantly and occasionally a bit roughly through that woodland idyll, in which Miranda Weese initially was somewhat reserved in a part that can benefit from a touch of piquancy and abandon. But the clarity and sweep of her phrasing suited the airy choreography, and by the end, she seemed to have caught a bit of his spark.

Rachel Rutherford was a demure, quietly rapturous debutante who might have been dreaming of her perfect waltzing partner in the person of the supremely handsome, gallant Nikolaj Hubbe, making a debut, in “Tales from the Vienna Woods.” The ever-so-quiet beginning of this section, which opens the ballet on a somewhat elegiac note (is this couple, strolling into the woods and momentarily caught in a reverie, looking back, dreaming of waltzes past?), is one of Balanchine’s many theatrical masterstrokes as he reveals his many insights into, and permutations of, three-quarter time. The multiple and expanding circles of this section, as couples multiply until suddenly the full complement of ten appears, seem to expand and contract with the music, and the brief hints of melancholy amid the overall easygoing delight invite one to imagine an underlying storyline or two.

When Pascale van Kipnis, making a welcome return to the stage after a sustained absence, took over the lead in this opening section on Saturday, she invested it with more emotional intensity and a delightful spontaneity, but had little to play off given the meticulously correct but bland performance of her partner, Fowler — making a debut, as was she. He was indeed every inch the proper officer, but a touch more involvement in the moment would have been nice.

At both performances, Jennifer Ringer revealed layers of warmth under the proud, alluring widow in the “Gold und Silber Walzer,” casting a momentarily dismissive look at Nilas Martins when she entered, but gradually giving into what seemed to be the bonds of a longstanding history between them. He cannot command the stage with his still presence the way his father, who originated the role could, but he conveyed a sense of a man who belonged in this elegant, high-society salon and knew its rules. In the Explosions-Polka, Carrie Lee Riggins was more pert than saucy as the wench playing with her over-eager guy, a feisty Tom Gold.

Darci Kistler swept through the extended ballroom solo that introduces the brilliant final section (“Der Rosenkavalier Erste Walzerfolge”) with a modicum of rapture, but this was not a woman whose dancing was powered by her imagination, one who could single-handedly inspire the chandeliers to start blazing. And something seemed lost in her connection with her partner, Charles Askegard; a few minute hesitations inhibited the flow and confidence of their waltzing. But the fluid flow of traffic as couple upon couple filled the mirrored ballroom, parting to allow the various lead couples to have their moment, worked its usual mesmerizing magic.

The second performance of “Vienna Waltzes,” on the Saturday matinee, closed out a program featuring two very recent, ensemble-oriented ballets that are as hectic and propulsive as the Balanchine work is sublime and expansive. Other than a chance to appreciate Peck’s growing authority and musical sophistication, Peter Martins’ “Friandises” does not gain much from repeated viewings, although it is a respectable effort that has to cope with an over-extended commissioned score (by Christopher Rouse). After the in-your-face 21st-century athleticism of that and Jorma Elo’s new “Slice to Sharp,” Balanchine’s panoramic exploration of late 19th-century Vienna glowed with even more sublime authority.

Volume 4, No. 24
June 19, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter



©2006 DanceView